Tag Archive for: social work

Childhood Depression: The Difference Between “The Blues” and Mood Issues

How can you tell the difference between a rough day or week versus a more serious mood issue in your child? We all have the depressed teenoccasional bad day, but when a child’s mood or behavior changes so dramatically that it begins to interfere with their overall quality of life, depression may be present.

In addition to persistent feelings of sadness, key indicators of childhood depression are:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Changes in sleep patterns (e.g., sleeping more or less than usual)
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Guilty or worthless feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or activities
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Heightened fear of being rejected
  • Crying and other vocal outbursts
  • Physical symptoms (e.g., stomach aches or headaches that are not responsive to other modes of treatment)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

For example, if your child has always enjoyed school and valued completing homework, but now has become resistant towards going to school and failing to complete assigned tasks, this could be a red flag that there is something deeper going on with your child. Your child does not need to meet every criteria listed above in order to meet depression diagnostic standards. If depressive symptoms are present for at least 2 weeks, it is important to contact your medical and/or mental health care provider. Factors that may contribute to depression include family history of depression, interpersonal conflicts or life event changes. The good news is that depression responds to mental health treatment. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy alters the way in which a child views the world. Children and their therapists are able to address underlying messages and assumptions that the child has about him/herself and the world. Addressing these underlying messages and assumptions will help the child re-create a more positive and realistic framework from which to function within. Depression involves more than sadness; it is a low-mood state that affects all aspects of daily life and functioning.

Download our Childhood Depression Checklist here

Watch a 2 minute webisode detailing the 3 Signs of Childhood Depression


Ways to Handle Tragedy with Children

Co-Authored by: Ali Wein, LCSW and Michelle Winterstein, LCSW

What happens when a tragedy occurs? When the unthinkable happens, both adults and children access their darkest fears and concernsboy watching the news about national, community, and personal safety. Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event and can be expressed in a variety of ways. Children may display acute signs of anxiety such as excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches, stomachaches, loss of interest in previous enjoyed activities, changes in relationships with peers, and changes in school performance. It is important to note that children may appear unhinged by trauma initially, but may demonstrate more delayed symptoms of anxiety after the exposure to the tragedy.

How To Approach A Tragedy With Your Child:

In the aftermath of tragic events, children benefit most from validation of their feelings, opportunities to talk and be listened to, and reassurance that many people are working hard to ensure their safety (i.e. policemen, teachers, doctors, volunteers, parents, and teachers.) When managing your child’s reaction to tragedy, first and foremost, it is imperative for the parent to understand their own thoughts and feelings regarding the event. Getting any parental concerns and anxieties under wraps will be essential prior to managing children’s anxieties and concerns. Children, by nature, are dependent and vulnerable and rely upon their parents to exude a sense of control, protection, and care. If a parent is highly reactive to their own anxieties, children can pick up on this and in turn, will mirror their parent’s anxieties. If a parent is calm and objective, the child can experience a solid sense that their parent is in control of the situation and give the child permission to feel safe and cared for.

Talk about the event. Not talking about the event can make things even more threatening in your child’s mind. Validate and acknowledge children’s fears and insecurities regarding the tragedy. Provide outlets and opportunities for your child to express their feelings and insecurities. Brushing over their feelings of sadness , anger, fear, and anxiety with “don’t feel this way” and “don’t worry, it won’t ever happen to you” can prove invalidating and deny the child the opportunity to effectively process their responses. Acknowledging your child’s fears and concerns will help them process the event and encourage self expression.

Limiting screen time to avoid continued media coverage regarding the event will help to reduce anxiety and re-traumatization. The most important part of dealing with trauma and tragedy is to process your and your child’s interpretation of the event, not the actual facts and details (i.e. how many people died, who killed them, the severity of this national tragedy, how it compares to other national tragedies, etc.). Exploring with your child how they interpret the event and what they think has happened is more therapeutic than rehashing the gory details. Furthermore, it is important to clear up any misconceptions your child may have as they will likely be hearing bits of information from various sources.

Uncontrollable tragedies occur and have the power to threaten our perceptions about our safety and understanding of our world around us. Providing a safe space to process the feelings that our children have is the best way to acknowledge the legitimacy of their concerns and regain a sense of normalcy.


“I Don’t Want to Talk About It!”- 5 Ways To Encourage Emotional Expression

If your child is resistant to communicating when upset, he may try to deny, hide, or avoid talking about his feelings.

It may be because he doesn’t feel safe expressing himself, or he could be afraid that talking about it will make him even more angry or scared than he already is. It is important for children to learn that as hard as it can be to talk about negative emotions, we need to release those feelings or they can resurface as negative behaviors and cause even worse problems. When I teach this to children, they usually give it a shot and see for themselves that they can feel much better afterwards!

5 Ways To Support Talking About Feelings:

Father hugs his daughter

  • Listen: Focus on your child, show empathy, and remove distractions.
  • Validate: Accept their feelings, even if they seem irrational.
  • Normalize: Help them understand that all emotions are normal and healthy.
  • Problem Solve: Encourage your child to come up with ways to cope.
  • Reinforce: Always praise your child for opening up.

Don’t be worried if your child still doesn’t love talking about his feelings, as this is only one way of expressing them. Some children respond better to drawing pictures, role playing with toys, or playing games to communicate their feelings. I am constantly amazed by how creative children can be when it comes to finding their favorite ways. Whatever method they prefer, encourage them to use it so they can get rid of pent-up feelings and get back to having fun!

Your child’s emotional well-being is important not only so they feel their best, but also because it supports their social and intellectual development. The positive effects are contagious to all aspects of your child’s life!

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Choosing The Right Friends: Supporting your Child’s Resiliency Against Peer Pressure

The older they get, the more independent they get. For adolescents, the world revolves around the friendship circle. While you can’t choose friends for your children, you can teach them how to choose wisely.  Some parents don’t get involved until it’s too late, when they desperately want their children to stop hanging out with bad influences. This may be accomplished, but the problem may return when the child meets someone similar. It’s more valuable to teach children about what a good friend means, rather than seek control over each individual peer of choice. You can start by asking your children to make a list of qualities that make up a “good friend” and helping them think about it objectively.

teenage friends standing outside

When discussing specific peers in their life, you can use the following questions as a screener:

Good Friend Checklist

  • Are you able to be yourself around them?
  • Do they make you feel good about yourself?
  • Do you have interests and hobbies in common?
  • Do you take turns being leader and follower?
  • Would you stand up for each other?
  • Do they want to help you when you’re upset?
  • Do they listen when you need to talk about your feelings?
  • Do they respect you when you say “no”?
  • Can you work it out together when you have a fight?

If most of the answers are “yes”, the friendship is likely to be a positive one and hopefully boosts self-esteem. If most of the answers are “no”, the friendship could lead to insecurity and poor decision-making and should be re-considered.  The “no” answers can also help identify which skills may need to be taught or strengthened.

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Breaking the Ice: Go-To Conversation Starters for Kids

Many children find it difficult to approach new friends. They often learn how, by watching others and trying things out. While they mayClassmates talking outdoors be able to do this on their own, they will be even more effective if they have an adult to provide guidance, appropriate phrases, and opportunities to practice.

Having  “go-to” phrases can really help children be prepared for social opportunities and lower anxiety about the unexpected.  Here are some ideas to share with your kids.

Conversation Starters For Children:

Help them pick out 2-3 of their favorite “go-to’s” and practice in role play with each-other  toys/figurines or new children (when ready).

Just introduce yourself!

Example: “Hi! I’m Alex.”

Ask a question about what they’re doing.

Example: “Are you playing the new Angry Birds game?”

Show that you’re interested in them.

Example: “I think I want to read that book. Do you like it?”

Give a compliment.

Example: “I like your backpack!”

Ask for their opinion.

Example: “Which video game do you like the best?”

Share a little about yourself.

Example: “I moved once too, so I know it’s really hard at first.”

Offer to help.

Example: “I can show you where that classroom is!”

Offer an invitation.

Example: “Want to sit together at lunch?”

Guide your child by talking about each idea and asking them which ones they prefer. This is a great conversation to have with your child as school just begins, to help lower that back to school anxiety!

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Get your Child Ready for 1st Grade

For many children going to 1st grade is a huge milestone.  More hours spent in school, higher expectations for academic, behavior,  social skills, and more peer pressure.Child in First Grade

Here are some tips to parent these kids as “right” as you can before 1st grade:


  • Prepare your child with some online fun academics, flash cards, or any workbook for 1st grade readiness;  but make it fun!  10 minutes per day is enough! You can even try KUMON math and reading to get them strong in basics for math and reading.  This will also prepare them with homework.
  • Strengthen up any weaknesses your child may have in academics. If they need a little reading help, use the following tips in this blog. If they need some number work, try flashcards, or try a tutor, but even just 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference in their self esteem about academics.
  • Get your child tested now if you detect any challenges. Don’t wait for the teacher to say something at conferences!  Go get a good neuropsychological exam and you will know what strengths and challenges your child has and have an opportunity to grow them.
  • Use a daily schedule even in first grade for time management and learning appropriate skills.


  • Make sure your child knows how to follow rules, understands boundaries, and knows the expectations of first grade children.  This includes raising hands, taking turns, staying quiet and getting involved/participation, etc.
  • Get your child some support if behavior is an issue.  There are social groups, social workers, books, all kinds of tools to help out there!
  • Your child needs to know what YOU expect of him and what your consequences  are at home.
  • Make sure your family gets proper sleep and food daily.

Social skills/Peer Pressure

  • Make play dates for your child and help model proper 1st grade skills.
  • Join a community playgroup/social group at a local clinic, park district or religious organization.
  • If you suspect something is still off about his social skills, get him evaluated and he can practice his skills with the right support.
  • Make sure to keep your child engaged and talkative with you so you can help him through the tough and great times of 1st grade.

Good luck!

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What is an Appropriate Age for Dating? | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s webisode, a pediatric social worker explains ways to determine at what age it is appropriate for your child to begin dating.  Click here to read our blog titled “5 Tips For Your Dating Teen”

In this video you will learn:

  • How to tell if your child is ready to date
  • What factors weigh in on the decision of dating
  • How to tell if your child is ready to date

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a world wide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn
Ackerman, and today I’m sitting here with Michelle Winterstein, a Pediatric
Social Worker. Michelle, can you tell our viewers at what age is it
appropriate to allow your child to start dating?

Michelle: Sure, Robyn. I don’t think that a specific age automatically
deems your child ready to start dating. I think it’s really an individual
factor, and it depends on the maturity of your child. I think the important
thing is when your child comes to you and expresses an interest in dating,
and you think that they are at the maturity level where they are ready for
that, then open up the lines of communication and make sure that your child
feels comfortable talking to you about the process of dating. I would also
recommend getting to know the child that your child is interested in dating
and make sure that that child’s family has similar values as your own.

Robyn: All right. Well, thank you so much, and thank you to our viewers.
And remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind
to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to
our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at
learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.

Tips to Overcome Shyness | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric social worker explains ways to help your child overcome shyness.  The following strategies are helpful if a child may have issues communicating with others and who is afraid of public.

In this video you will learn:

  • The natural approach to shyness
  • 3 Tips to overcome shyness
  • How to help a child understand shyness

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now your host, here’s Robyn.

Robyn: Hello and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn
Ackerman, and today I am sitting here with pediatric social
worker, Michelle Winterstein. Michelle, can you tell us what are
some three tips to overcome shyness?

Michelle: Yes, Robyn. Many children of all ages suffer from shyness. The
three tips that I would most recommend would be the first thing
is to identify what’s causing the shyness. By knowing the cause,
you can better determine what approach to take in helping your
child better get along with others.

The next thing would be exposure, exposure, exposure, whether
this be taking your child to the grocery store when you go or
family events. The more they’re exposed to, the better.

And the third most important thing I would suggest would be to
be a role model for your child. Show your child that you’re
comfortable interacting with people and that you know when it’s
needed to be assertive. Along with that, if you ever see your
child struggling or in need of some extra attention or a push,
be there to help your child.

Robyn: All right. Thank you so much. Those are some wonderful tips,
and thank you to our viewers. Remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of
mind to your family with the best in educational programming. To
subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit
our website at LearnMore.me. That’s LearnMore.me.

Inclusion: How to Make it Work

What is Inclusion?

Inclusion has been a common school term for decades.  It is a philosophy and strategy in which students with special needs spend most or all of their time with non-disabled peers, rather than being educated in separate classrooms or schools.

When students are part of a full inclusion program, they receive additional academic assistance or instruction in the general education classroom, whenever possible. Happy child in school More commonly, though, schools provide education to the students in a variety of degrees from separated classrooms to mainstreaming (general education classes for less than half the day and usually for less academically rigorous classes such as PE, art, music, story time, etc), to inclusion, and determine the setting that would most likely help the students achieve their individualized educational goals.  Specialized services such as speech, OT, PT, and social work are provided outside the regular classroom, but can also be inclusive and have peers from the regular education classroom participate with them, when appropriate.

When I worked as a school social worker, I often created “friendship groups” where I would have three or four peers from the classroom join the child with special needs each week.  The regular education students would rotate from a list of all classmates whose parents gave consent.  Kids would beg to participate in these groups which often helped the regular education peers as much as the “targeted” student.  It was a positive experience for all because a trained professional facilitated the group as they navigated social skills, assertiveness training, and conflict resolution with small group instruction, role play, games, social stories, etc.  The peers from the regular education classroom had a fun time with their peer whom they thought could not keep up with them on the playground during recess and would often subsequently ask the child to join them.  I often recommend this type of group for children who have difficulty integrating with their peers.

Is Inclusion Right for Your Child?

Before deciding whether inclusion is right for your child, remember that schools are legislated to provide the least restrictive environment (LRE) for the child that will meet the child’s needs and Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  The child’s plan should indeed be individualized and always have the child’s best interest in mind.  A child with severe behavioral problems or severe sensory processing deficits may negatively impact the classroom setting within the regular education classroom and be disruptive, which would negatively impact the learning environment as well as friendships.  A child who is delayed in learning academic skills or who has behavioral or emotional struggles may need individualized instruction or small group instruction in order to make appropriate gains.  Placing that child strictly in a regular education classroom may create added anxiety for the child and may increase negative behaviors because of heightened stimulation in the larger regular education setting.  A child with these struggles may initially benefit from integrating with same-age peers in classes such as physical education, art, music, library, or computers with an aide present to help the child.

Best Practice for Inclusion Success

To obtain the optimal success rates of including the child within the regular education classroom, the school setting should provide:

  • tailored individualized education programs (IEPs)
  • adequate support and services for the student
  • diversity training and professional development for all educators working with the child
  • weekly planning times for all teachers on the child’s team to collaborate and create the optimal learning environment for the child and regular education peers
  • smaller class sizes, depending on the student’s special needs
  • training in cooperative learning, peer mentoring, and curriculum adaptation to address the child’s needs
  • funding to develop appropriate programs to continue to meet these needs
  • most importantly, ongoing communication with the child’s support team (educators, specialists, parents, and administrative officers) will provide the most appropriate programming to meet the child’s individualized academic, social, and behavioral needs.

To help your child with social skills, you will LOVE this blog about ipad and iphone apps for teaching social skills 

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